The first thing you need to know if your college or university has accused you of sexual assault: you can't handle this situation on your own.
First, consider just what's at stake. If you're found responsible, the minimum penalty you'll probably face is suspension. More likely, you're looking at dismissal. Expulsion often comes with a transcript notation that describes the exact nature of your offense. It can be difficult, if not impossible, to find another school willing to admit you if you have an academic record of stalking, sexual assault, or rape.
You should also know that your school won't make it easy to defend yourself. For example, you don't have to be found responsible “beyond a reasonable doubt. Your university only has to believe it's “more likely than not” that you committed an offense. And most universities side with the alleged victims in these cases. University of Northern Colorado web pages, for instance, offer plenty of resources for victims but no description of what the judicial process looks like. How are you supposed to mount a defense if you don't know how the system works?
Luckily, you don't have to deal with this situation alone. You're entitled to choose an advisor, someone to help you prepare your case and to stand beside you in meetings and hearings. Even better, that advisor can be an attorney.
Title IX Sexual Misconduct
Let's start with the basics. Most sexual misconduct cases at US schools are Title IX cases. Title IX is a federal law passed in 1972 that prohibits sexual discrimination and harassment in all federally funded education programs. In addition to its general provisions, it contains an extensive set of rules for how colleges and universities should go about investigating and adjudicating all allegations.
So, while UNC doesn't publish any guidance on how it handles sexual misconduct cases, we can provide a basic outline of the process.
- First, UNC must have a designated Title IX Coordinator to handle these cases. All faculty are required to report any knowledge they may have of misconduct, but only a Complainant (alleged victim) or the Coordinator may sign an official complaint against you.
- If you are being investigated, you are entitled to notice of the charges. This notice must include the name of the Complainant as well as details about the allegation.
- Title IX guarantees you several important due process rights. These include
- The right to be treated equally to the Complainant in all matters
- The right to be presumed “not responsible” (innocent) until proven “responsible” (guilty)
- The right to an advisor, who may be an attorney
- The right to be investigated and adjudicated by non-biased individuals
- The right to review all evidence against you
- The right to present evidence and suggest witnesses
- The right to advanced notice of all meetings and proceedings in the case
- Once you've been charged, the Coordinator appoints an Investigator to gather the facts of the case. This individual meets separately with both sides, interviews witnesses, and collects any physical evidence.
- At the conclusion of the investigation, the Investigator submits a written summary of their findings. Both sides have ten days in which to review this document and suggest revisions before it is forwarded to the Coordinator.
- The Investigative Report becomes the foundation of the hearing that follows. Once the Coordinator has received it, they must choose a date and time for this hearing and appoint one or more Decision Makers to preside over the proceedings.
- At the hearing, both sides present evidence and call witnesses. In addition, you may cross-examine each other and any witnesses against you.
- Only advisors may conduct cross-examinations. If you do not have an advisor, the school must appoint one for you. However, they are under no obligation to supply you with an attorney.
- Once the hearing has concluded, the Decision Makers use a legal standard known as “Preponderance of Evidence” to determine whether or not you are responsible for an offense. According to this standard, they must find you responsible if they are more than fifty percent convinced you committed a violation.
- Finally, both sides have the right to appeal the hearing outcome. However, you have a limited amount of time in which to file such an appeal, and you may only file for very specific reasons, such as the discovery of new evidence, the demonstration of bias on the part of a Title IX official, or a procedural mistake in the case.
Non-Title IX Sexual Misconduct
Most sexual misconduct cases are Title IX cases, but not all. That's because of changes to the law in 2020 that narrowed the definitions of “discrimination” and “harassment” and limited schools' jurisdictional authority. Some misconduct that had been covered under the law before simply wasn't any longer. For example, off-campus incidents aren't subject to Title IX investigation anymore. Afraid that some misconduct might slip through the cracks, many schools set up their own policies to handle these so-called “non-Title IX” offenses.
Because these cases aren't subject to federal law, schools are free to design their own processes for dealing with them. Universities are not required to follow any particular set of procedures or to provide respondents with any particular due process rights.
Again, the University of Northern Colorado doesn't make clear how it handles such cases, and the Student Code of Conduct makes no mention of “sexual misconduct” specifically. That document does talk about “violence” and “threatening behavior,” though. The school deals with such behaviors through a hearing process. However, the process is significantly different from the Title IX process. Among other things, the Complainant doesn't have the burden of proof. Instead, the school itself makes a claim against you, setting up an inherent conflict of interest.
In short, a non-Title IX case can be even more tricky than a Title IX case.
How Can Joseph D. Lento Help?
It's probably already clear by this point why you need an attorney to help you handle the charges against you. In today's political climate, no school can afford to look soft on sexual predators. As a result, your school will likely do everything it can to make sure you are found responsible and punished as severely as possible. Title IX provides you with some protections, but not enough. If you're subject to non-Title IX rules, you likely have even fewer protections.
You can win your case, but you need to know exactly how the process works and exactly how to use the rights you do have to your benefit.
Joseph D. Lento is a fully-qualified defense attorney. He's not just a defense attorney, though. Joseph D. Lento is what's known as a Title IX attorney. That means he specializes in handling campus sexual misconduct cases. Joseph D. Lento has dedicated his career to fighting for student rights. Over the years, he has handled hundreds of cases for students just like you, making sure they're treated fairly and that they get the justice they deserve. Your school won't make it easy to defend yourself; make sure you have someone on your side who knows the law and can use it to your benefit.
If you or your child has been accused of sexual misconduct, don't wait to act. The school is already preparing its case. You should be too. Contact the Lento Law Firm today at 888-555-3686 or use our automated online form.